Fast Fashion reliance on fossil fuels is eating up global carbon budgets and polluting our water

It turns out that recycling all those plastic water bottles into fleece isn’t enough to solve the problems of “fast fashion”.  An eye-opening report released on February 3 documents the scope of the environmental damages caused by the global fashion industry, and makes recommendations for government regulation and consumer action.

Fossil Fashion: The hidden reliance of fast fashion on fossil fuels lays out the scale of the problem:

“The global fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. Research from the European Environment Agency has highlighted that textiles are the fourth largest cause of environmental pressure after food, housing and transport. The fashion industry is responsible for a significant share of global water pollution, consumes more energy than shipping and aviation combined, and by 2050 is anticipated to be responsible for 25% of the world’s remaining carbon budget. Furthermore, our clothes release half a million tonnes of microfibres into the ocean every year, equivalent to more than 50 billion plastic bottles.”….. “Without prompt and radical legislative action and a considerable slowdown, fast fashion’s quest for cheap clothing will create untenable volumes of waste and toxic microfibres, and emit more carbon than the planet can handle.”

 

The report provides detail statistics related to production, recycling, and the environmental and pollution impacts, summarized by this overview:    “Production of polyester has grown ninefold in the past 50 years, and the fibre has been widely adopted in the fashion industry as a low-cost material that allows brands to churn out a never-ending variety of cheap items ….Polyester is cheap, costing half as much per kilo as cotton, and has cemented itself as the backbone of today’s throwaway fashion model. The trends speak for themselves, with the average consumer buying 60% more clothing compared to 15 years ago, yet wearing each item of clothing half as long. Polyester’s flexibility as a material has seen it creeping into other materials too, with blends such as cotton and polyester increasingly being used, creating another set of problems when it comes to waste management. ….Recycling will not solve fast fashion’s problems, nor will it curb the exponential growth in the use of synthetic fibres. Currently, less than 1% of clothes are recycled to make new clothes, and the share of recycled polyester is declining; while it accounted for 14% in 2019, this will in fact decrease to 7.9% of overall polyester production by 2030. Furthermore, virtually all recycled polyester in clothing comes not from recycled garments, but from recycled plastic bottles.”  …. Recycling also does nothing to solve a problem both microscopic and enormous: microfibres. These tiny fragments of plastic shed from our clothes when we wash them, wear them or throw them out, and leak into our bodies and the natural world. Microfibres are found throughout ocean ecosystems, with a recent study discovering that 73% of microfibre pollution in formerly pristine Arctic waters is from synthetic fibres that could be coming from textiles. Graver still, microplastics have even been found in the placentas of unborn babies, affecting the human body in ways that are not yet fully understood.”

The main recommendations in this report deal with environmental/sustainability/pollution regulation in the EU – coinciding with January 2021 EU consultations for a strategy “Roadmap” to “shift to a climate-neutral, circular economy where products are designed to be more durable, reusable, repairable, recyclable and energy-efficient” in the Covid-19 recovery.  Canada, like the EU, is mainly an importer of fast fashion, so the relevant recommendations from Fossil Fashion are those for the consumer. Relying on individual action and purchasing power, they call for people to stop compulsive shopping and buy only from brands which have made a clear and transparent commitment to sustainably sourced supply chains.  The report also calls for consumers to join in “raising awareness of the issues surrounding fast fashion, and use their voices to highlight issues such as greenwashing, exploitative practices, environmental harm and unsustainable consumption.”

Fossil Fashion was published by the Changing Markets Foundation, whose focus is  the environmental impacts of  the fashion industry. In November 2020, they also published Dirty Fashion: Crunch Time, which updates their 2018 campaign to evaluate and rank individual fashion brands.  Another advocacy group, the Clean Clothes Campaign,  collaborates with Changing Markets and focuses on human rights and working conditions in the global fashion industry. Their latest report was released in January 2021, with a focus on the EU:   Fashioning Justice: A call for mandatory and comprehensive human rights due diligence in the garment industry .

How “clean” are clean energy and electric vehicles?

Several articles and reports published recently have re-visited the question: how “clean” is “clean energy”?  Here is a selection, beginning in October 2020 with a multi-part series titled Recycling Clean Energy Technologies , from the Union of Concerned Scientists. It includes: “Wind Turbine blades don’t have to end up in landfill”; “Cracking the code on recycling energy storage batteries“; and “Solar Panel Recycling: Let’s Make It Happen” .

The glaring problem with Canada’s solar sector and how to fix it” (National Observer, Nov. 2020) states that “While solar is heralded as a clean, green source of renewable energy, this is only true if the panels are manufactured sustainably and can be recycled and kept out of landfills.” Yet right now, Canada has no capacity to recycle the 350 tonnes of solar pv waste produced in 2016 alone, let alone the 650,000 tonnes Canada is expected to produce by 2050. The author points the finger of responsibility at Canadian provinces and territories, which are responsible for waste management and extended producer responsibility (EPR) regulations. A description of solar recycling and waste management systems in Europe and the U.S. points to better practices.  

No ‘green halo’ for renewables: First Solar, Veolia, others tackle wind and solar environmental impacts” appeared in Utility Drive (Dec. 14)  as a “long read” discussion of progress to uphold environmental and health and safety standards in both the  production and disposal of solar panels and wind turbine blades. The article points to examples of industry standards and third-party certification of consumer goods, such as The Green Electronics Council (GEC) and NSF International. The article also quotes experts such as University of California professor Dustin Mulvaney, author of Solar Power: Innovation, Sustainability, and Environmental Justice (2019) and numerous other articles which have tracked the environmental impact, and labour standards, of the solar energy industry.

Regarding the recycling of wind turbine blades:  A press release on December 8 2020 describes a new agreement between  GE Renewable Energy and Veolia, whereby Veolia will recycle blades removed from its U.S.-based onshore wind turbines by shredding them at a processing facility in Missouri, so that they can be used as a replacement for coal, sand and clay in cement manufacturing.  A broader article appeared in Grist, “Today’s wind turbine blades could become tomorrow’s bridges” (Jan. 8 2021) which notes the GE- Veoli initiative and describes other emerging and creative ways to deal with blade waste, such as the Re-Wind project. Re-Wind is a partnership involving universities in the U.S., Ireland, and Northern Ireland who are engineering ways to repurpose the blades for electrical transmission towers, bridges, and more.  The article also quotes a senior wind technology engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the U.S. who is experimenting with production materials to find more recyclable materials from which to build wind turbine blades in the first place. He states: “Today, recyclability is something that is near the top of the list of concerns” for wind energy companies and blade manufacturers alike …. All of these companies are saying, ‘We need to change what we’re doing, number one because it’s the right thing to do, number two because regulations might be coming down the road. Number three, because we’re a green industry and we want to remain a green industry.’”

These are concerns also top of mind regarding the electric vehicle industry, where both production and recycling of batteries can be detrimental to the planet.  The Battery Paradox: How the electric vehicle boom is draining communities and the planet is a December 2020 report by the Dutch Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO). It reviews the social and environmental impacts of the whole battery value chain, (mining, production, and recycling) and the mining of key minerals used in Lithium-ion batteries (lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite and manganese).  The report concludes that standardization of battery cells, modules and packs would increase recycling rates and efficiency, but ultimately,  “To relieve the pressure on the planet, …. any energy transition strategy should prioritize reducing demand for batteries and cars… Strategies proposed include ride-sharing, car-sharing and smaller vehicles.”

Plastics in a circular economy: Canadian and global updates

In Oslo on October 23, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the UN Environment Programme  published the first annual Progress Report on the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment .  Part 1 provides a high-level overview of the Global Commitment and its achievements; Part 2 profiles of the programs reported by some of the 400 businesses, organizations and governments which have signed on to the Global Commitment since it launched in 2018. An overview of the Global Commitment, including a list of all participants, is here .  The Progress Report states that  the aim of  the Global Commitment is to: “eliminate the plastic items we don’t need; innovate so all plastics we do need are designed to be safely reused, recycled, or composted; and circulate everything we use to keep it in the economy and out of the environment.” This first progress report sets a benchmark against which progress can be measured, and clearly calls for an increase in the ambition level, particularly to go beyond recycling, to encourage elimination and reuse.   The Press release and summary is here .

Recent actions to reduce Plastic waste in Canada:

The Canadian government is not a signatory to the Global Commitment, although at least one Canadian organization, Sustainable Prosperity Institute at the University of Ottawa, is a signatory, and  the global  Progress Report  provide other examples of  initiatives by Canadian businesses and the provincial government of British Columbia.

Plastic waste is a high-profile policy issue for Canadians, though nearly 90% of plastic waste in Canada is not recycled, according to the  Economic Study of the Canadian Plastic Industry, Market and Waste,  commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada and released in June 2019.

plastic water bottles In October 2019, Greenpeace Canada conducted an audit of 13,822 pieces of plastic waste collected in volunteer shoreline clean-ups and  identified the top five plastic polluters  in Canada as Nestlé, Tim Hortons, Starbucks, McDonalds and Coca-Cola. CBC summarized the findings and the wider issue of plastic pollution in “Nestlé, Tim Hortons named Canada’s top plastic polluters again”.

Recent Actions on Plastic Waste:

On October 31, the government of Nova Scotia passed Bill 152, the Plastic Bags Reduction Act , which also addresses other single-use plastics.  This follows plastic bag bans by Prince Edward Island and some municipalities.

The government of British Columbia issued a  Plastics Action Plan Consultation Paper which discussed four options for regulatory amendments, including single-use bans and extended producer responsibility. The  consultation process was extended to September 30, with amendments to the regulations promised by the end of 2019.

In Ontario, where waste management has played an outsized role in the Conservative government’s Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan , an August 2019 government press release announced next steps for recycling and plastic waste management.  The government had appointed a Special Advisor on Recycling and Plastic Waste, who released recommendations in his report Renewing the Blue Box: Final report on the blue box mediation process . The report calls for a transfer of responsibility for the consumer stream Blue Box program to a new producer responsibility system across the province by December 31, 2025. These concluding remarks typify the business approach of the exercise:

 “Investment in research and innovation to create the jobs from the recycled materials should be an interministerial responsibility. Garbage and recycling are not just an environmental issue – they are also economic opportunities…. … More than 99 percent of the plastics collected by the city of Toronto are sold to recyclers right here in Ontario, going to facilities in Shelbourne, Sarnia, and Toronto. Steel and glass collected by Toronto’s recycling programs are processed in Hamilton and Guelph, respectively. This is a prime example of recycling creating jobs and adding value to Ontario’s economy.”

Earlier actions:

The federal-provincial body, the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME), approved the Phase 1 statement of  a Canada-Wide Action Plan on Zero Plastic Waste in June 2019.  Phase 1 focuses on product design, single-use plastics, collection systems, recycling capacity and domestic markets. The Council promises to release Phase 2 of the Action Plan in 2020, focusing on preventing plastic pollution in oceans, inland lakes and waterways, advancing science to monitor the impacts of plastics pollution within the environment, consumer awareness, clean-up and global action.

Also in June 2019,  the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development released The Last Straw: Turning the Tide on Plastic Pollution in Canada,  the result of a consultation  which received nine briefs and testimony from 41 witnesses (some of which were environmental groups, and none of which were labour unions). The Last Straw made  21 recommendations , calling on the federal government to take the lead on developing standards for plastic products made or sold in Canada, as well as on  a national model recycling system and an extended producer responsibility framework for plastics.  Other recommendations:  Canada should establish a more ambitious goal of reaching zero plastic waste by 2030;  commit to banning harmful single-use plastic products – specifically  straws, bags, cutlery, cups, cigarette filters and polystyrene packaging.

CUPE LOGOAt the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)  National Convention in Montreal in October, one of the environmental resolutions approved by delegates was a call for a ban on single-use plastics , according to Notes from the Floor . (Online access to the Resolutions is restricted to CUPE members) .

CUPW logos joint-statement_enIn April 2019, the Association of Postal Officials of Canada, the Canadian Postmasters and Assistants Association, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, and the Union of Postal Communications Employees  reached a formal agreement   with Canada Post to collaborate to reduce Canada Post’s environmental footprint. The initial focus of activities will be towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions, waste and single-use disposable plastics from Canada Post operations. In early 2020, the parties will publish an action plan for 2020-2022 , with agreed- upon targets for 2020-2030.

Canada’s  Circular Economy Leadership Council published a Policy Brief in the winter 2019  – with recommendations for government action. The Council includes advocacy groups such as IISD and the National Zero Waste Council, as well as corporations including Unilever, Walmart, Canadian Tire, and IKEA.

vision for plasticsIn February 2019, the Sustainable Prosperity Institute released A Vision for a Circular Economy for Plastics in Canada: The Benefits of Plastics Without the Waste and How We Get it Right.

European Industrial Policy report calls for social dialogue, shared responsibility for skills training in transition

Industry 2030 just transition graphicA Vision for the European Industry until 2030, released by the European Commission on June 27,  is the final report of a High-Level Industrial Roundtable working group of 20 members from business and academia, and also including the General Secretary of industriAll Europe  and the former Deputy General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).  The press release from the ETUC  is titled “Industry 2030 report is a step towards just transitions”, and states: “The comprehensive report puts European industry on a path to an “innovative, sustainable, competitive and human-centered collaborative economy [that] respects planetary boundaries…. It proposes an action plan which includes massive investment in innovation on digital and zero or low-carbon technologies, a commitment to fair and rules-based international trade and to social inclusiveness that leaves no worker or region behind.”

The report is wide-reaching, and includes a strong awareness of environmental and climate change imperatives – for example, amongst the the “game-changing actions” recommended are: Carbon-leakage 2.0 plan: ; a Green Deal with industry which shares risks and benefits, drawing on the principles of the  “Entrepreneurial State” concept outlined by Mariana Mazzucato; standardized carbon reporting; and a Circular Economy leadership role for Europe by 2030.

Some statements on the issue of  Social Dialogue: 

“Climate, energy, raw materials, and bio-economy policies are key areas considered essential for the future of EU industry in terms of challenges and opportunities. They need to go hand in hand with industrial policy and a societal dialogue on what emission reduction and other environmental policies mean in terms of costs, benefits and behavioural changes for everyone. (p. 13)

Considering the speed with which technologies and new business models transform entire industries, planning structural disruption regularly and proactively is key. The establishment of a culture of social dialogue at all levels (company, sector, regional, national) becomes imperative to ensure smooth and just workforce transitions, to help re-train those whose jobs are at risk and to support the regeneration of adversely affected regions.”(p. 19)

Ensure social fairness of industrial transition:  Foster a culture of constructive and effective social dialogue at all levels of the economy (company, sector, country), according to national industrial relations systems and timely information and consultation processes as key elements for anticipating and managing change, i.e. skills.”

Selected statements from the extensive proposals re education and training: 

“Link education and training  policy more strategically to the industrial policy for instance by reinforcing cooperation between companies (especially SMEs), social partners & industry and education and training providers.

Enhance industry’s active role in upskilling and skills development. EU citizens of all ages need to be sensitized to engage in lifelong learning. At the same time, private sector, in collaboration with EU, national and European social partners, should be encouraged to provide training and life-long learning opportunities for all workers. This could be done by establishing new and innovative educational programmes and solutions to complement the role of academia and scaling-up successful existing initiatives, e.g. work-based learning and dual systems , modularized learning offer, e-learning; promotion of quality and effective apprenticeships; promotion of sector-specific training initiatives; providing adult learning opportunities to prevent skills obsolesce and support employability; installing a culture of lifelong learning, including through the promotion of the internal mobility of workers inside the company….

Maintain or increase the employability of the workforce, especially in sectors in transition, by up- and reskilling of the workforce to the jobs of the future, and supporting a smooth transition from one job to another (group outplacement, employment cells, tailor-made training programmes, job search assistance). This should be a shared responsibility between industry and the public sector.”  (p.32)

Build a pan-European coalition involving the EU, Member States, regions, industry, education and training systems and trade unions to take a systemic approach to skills…. Under the coalition, the EU will build on existing instruments to further facilitate flexibility and fast response mechanisms to react to changing labour market needs through procedures for the certification and compatibility of skills
and qualifications across borders and industrial sectors, e.g. using skills badges, which shall recognize informal learning, e.g. by working in a company. (p.33)

Amnesty International campaign calls for better mining, manufacture, and disposal of electric vehicle batteries

golf electricWhile the Nordic EV Summit   in March 2019 showcased progress on the adoption of electric vehicles, Amnesty International used that backdrop to  issue a challenge to leaders in the electric vehicle industry –  to produce the world’s first completely ethical battery, free of human rights abuses within its supply chain, within five years.

It is not news that the mining of  cobalt and lithium, the two key minerals in batteries, has been linked to human rights abuses, environmental pollution, ecosystem destruction and indigenous rights violations.   Amnesty was amongst the first to document the child labour and human rights abuses with a report This is what we die for   in 2016,  updated in  2017 by an article,  “The Dark Side of Electric Cars: Exploitative Labor Practices”.  More recently, “Indigenous people’s livelihoods at risk in scramble for lithium, the new white goldappeared in The Ethical Corporation  (April 9), describing the human rights situation in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, which hold 60% of the world’s lithium reserves. The environmental impacts of deep-sea mining are also of concern.

In addition to the mining of raw materials, battery manufacturing has a high carbon footprint, with most of the current manufacturing concentrated in China, South Korea and Japan, where electricity generation remains dependent on coal and other polluting sources of power.

Finally, the issue of electronic waste, including batteries, has been the subject of several  reports:  From  the International Labour Organization :  in 2012,  Global Impact of E-waste: Addressing the Challenge and more recently,  Decent work in the management of electrical and electronic waste (e-waste) , an Issues paper produced for a Global Dialogue Forum on Decent Work in the Management of Electrical and Electronic Waste in April 2019.  The 2019  report provides estimates of the workforce involved in some countries – led by China, with an estimated 690,000 workers in 2007, followed by up to 100,000 in Nigeria , followed by 60,000 in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  The report deals mainly with occupational health and safety issues and includes an overview of international  e-waste regulation, as well as case studies of  the U.S., Argentina, China, India, Japan, Nigeria.  Similar discussions appear in  A New Circular Vision for Electronics Time for a Global Reboot , released by the E-waste Coalition at the 2019 World Economic Forum, and in a blog, Dead Batteries deserve a Second Life published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development on April 9.evcobalt-lithium-V2_1-supply-chain

Clearly, there are labour and environmental problems related to lithium-ion batteries and the green vehicles and electronic devices they power.  Recognizing  all these concerns, the new Amnesty International campaign is calling for:  improvement in human rights practices in mining, and  a prohibition on commercial deep-sea mining; disclosure and accounting for carbon in manufacturing, and for legal protection and enforcement of workplace rights such as health, equality and non-discrimination; finally for products to be designed and regulated to encourage re-use and penalize waste, with prevention of  illegal or dangerous export and dumping of batteries.

Business looks at climate change: Davos publications include auto manufacturing, electronic waste

The overall theme of the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos Switzerland in 2019 was the 4th Industrial Revolution. Climate change issues were top of mind in discussions, as the annual  Global Risks Report for 2019  had ranked the top global risks to the world as  extreme weather and climate-change policy failures.  Discussions, speeches, blogs and reports are compiled on the themes of The Future of the Environment and Natural Resource Security and Climate Change   .  Highlights include : “6 things we learned about the Environment at Davos” , an overview which highlights Japan’s pledge to  use its G20 Presidency to reduce plastic ocean pollution; the launch of a new organization called Voice for the Planet  to showcase the youth climate activist movement: and  a pledge by 10 global companies have to take back the electronic waste from their products.  Also of interest, the speech by Greta Thunberg, who is at the centre of the new youth climate activism – “Our House is on Fire” ; and “Why income inequality is bad for the climate”,  a blog by the President of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation.

WEF Reports of interest: Improving Traceability in Food Value Chains through Technology Innovations, which offers technology as a means to make the current industrial food system safer (and possibly more sustainable).   Shaping the Sustainability of Production Systems: Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies for competitiveness and sustainable growth  discusses the coming world of manufacturing, focussing on the electronics and automotive industries of  Andhra Pradesh, India and the automotive industry in Michigan U.S.A., including a discussion of Cobotics 2.0 (collaborative robots) , Metal 3D printing, and “augmented workforce”.

new circular vision for electronics - 2019 reportThe circular economy was also discussed, with a spotlight on electronic waste, which is estimated at 50 million tonnes of produced each year currently.   A New Circular Vision for Electronics Time for a Global Reboot  was released by the E-waste Coalition, which includes  the International Telecommunication Union (a UN organization), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and others.  The report, summarized here,  is an overview of  e-waste production and recycling, and includes a brief discussion of labour conditions, calling for upgrading and formalization of the recycling industry as a “major opportunity”. It states:  “the total number of people working informally in the global e-waste sector is unknown. However, as an indication, according to the ILO in Nigeria up 100,000 people are thought to be working in the informal e-waste sector, while in China that number is thought to be 690,000.” As for the dangers… “using basic recycling techniques to burn the plastic from electronic goods leaving the valuable metals (melting down lead in open pots, or dissolving circuit boards in acid) lead to adult and child workers, as well as their families, exposed to many toxic substances. In many countries, women and children make up to 30% of the workforce in informal, crude e-waste processing and are therefore particularly vulnerable.”  According to the report, the International Labour Organization is scheduled to release a new report in March 2019, to be titled  Decent work in the management of electrical and electronic waste.

Canadian Circular Economy coalition launched at G7 meetings

Circular economy group shot 2018The Circular Economy Leadership Council  (CELC) of Canada was launched at the Halifax meetings of G7 Environment, Energy and Ocean ministers on September 20, when the focus was on plastic pollution of our oceans.  The CELC is a Canada-wide, non- profit coalition which includes corporate and NGO leaders, think tanks, and academics,  with a dual goal “to eliminate waste and accelerate the reduction of carbon emissions from the Canadian economy.”  Their immediate objective is to develop and publish a Circular Economy Roadmap which will serve as a national strategy document. More details appear in their  bilingual brochure .

Co-chairs of the coalition are David Hughes, President and CEO of Natural Step Canada, and John D. Coyne, Vice-President and General Counsel of Unilever Canada.  Founding members are listed as: Unilever Canada • IKEA Canada • Loblaw Companies Limited • Walmart Canada • NEI Investments LP • International Institute for Sustainable Development • National Zero Waste Council     • Smart Prosperity Institute • The Natural Step Canada, and  • Institut EDDEC – Environment, sustainable development and the circular economy  in Quebec.  The CELC also declares strong working relationships with two well-established  Circular Economy organizations –  the Ellen MacArthur Foundation  based  in the U.K., and Sitra in Finland, which organized the first World Circular Economy Forum in Helsinki in June 2017,  with 1,600 participants from  100 countries.  The 2nd World Circular Economy Forum will take place in Yokohama, Japan on 22-24 October 2018.

Circular economy contributes to clean growth – but what are the implications for jobs?

Circular economy coverGetting to a Circular Economy: A primer for Canadian policymakers was released by Smart Prosperity (formerly Sustainable Prosperity) on January 24, the first in a planned series of policy briefs and blogs on the topic. This introductory Primer starts from the widely-held premise that current global production and consumption models are unsustainable,  and states that “Canadian discussion on the circular economy has been overshadowed by the national emphasis on climate change and clean growth. In fact, the two approaches have significant goals in common: a focus on a low-carbon economy and on economic growth, innovation and new technologies.”

The Primer uses  a broad  definition developed by Canada’s Circular Economy Lab (CEL):  circular economy is “an approach to maximize value and eliminate waste by improving (and in some cases transforming) how goods and services are designed, manufactured and used. It touches on everything from material to business strategy to the configuration of regulatory frameworks, incentives and markets.” The Policy Brief provides a catalogue and description of the major circular economy policies and initiatives from around the world, especially Europe; from Canada, these include the National Zero Waste Council,  the Circular Economy Lab , L’Institut d’environnement, du développement durable et de l’économie circulaire (EDDEC)  in Quebec, and BioFuelNet , through which Warren Mabee of the ACW conducts research on advanced biofuels.   The Brief concludes by proposing  “Top 6 Tools for Accelerating the Circular Economy in Canada” , including  extended producer responsibility programs and policies; green procurement;  and public investments in circular economy related research, development, innovation and pilots.”  The Brief identifies one of the research gaps as the need to understand the social and employment impacts of the circular economy, and how to manage them.

In related news, on January 22 at the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos, the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) was launched , with an agreement between the United Nations Environment Program and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the prominent U.K. charity whose mission is to accelerate the shift to a circular economy. To kick off the project,  eleven global corporations pledged that all their packaging will be reused, recycled or composted by the year 2025.

Redesigning the fashion industry from linear to circular

In what is being called a revolutionary document, A New Textile Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future characterizes the current system of textile and clothing production as a “wasteful, linear system”  which “leads to substantial and ever-expanding pressure on resources and causes high levels of pollution. Hazardous substances affect the health of both textile workers and the wearers of clothes, and plastic microfibres are released into the environment, often ending up in the ocean.”  To improve the societal and environmental impacts of the industry, the report fleshes out the means to achieve four fundamental objectives:   1.  Phase out substances of concern and microfibre release 2. Transform the way clothes are designed, sold, and used to break free from their increasingly disposable nature, 3. Radically improve recycling by transforming clothing design, collection, and reprocessing, and 4. Make effective use of resources and move to renewable inputs.  Benefits to consumers are emphasized, and benefits to workers seem to flow from a reduced exposure to the toxic chemicals used in manufacture.  There is only vague attention to  “A better deal for employees. Because a circular economy is distributive by design, value would be circulated among enterprises of all sizes in the industry, rather than being extracted. This would allow all parts of the value chain to pay workers well and provide them with good working conditions.”    The report was released by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Circular Fibres Initiative, with Stella McCartney adding star power.

A greater focus on the working conditions in the global clothing industry comes from The Clean Clothes Campaign . Greenpeace International has been promoting the fight against toxic chemicals in fashion for several years in their Detox My Fashion campaign.

News update for June 2016: Ontario rolls out details of its Climate Action Plan

On June 8, 2016,  a press release  from the Premier’s Office summarized the Climate Change Action Plan; the detailed plan is here .  A separate press release clarified the province’s position on renewable natural gas – a strong point of opposition to the earlier announcement of the Plan.   Unifor responded with a press release stating “Ontario industries must have support towards a low-carbon future, including just-transition for workers,” …. “The Action Plan provides a down payment on that transition, but much more will be needed to ensure that climate action and industrial strategies work together.” For a compilation of other reactions, see “What Ontarians think” ;  also, Clean Energy Canada  (“Ontario is embarking on an energy transition, not a revolution.”  “commendable”); Greenpeace (“a courageous decision not to take the path of least political resistance.”)

Other Ontario announcements supporting the province’s climate change objectives have been issued:  May 25,  the government announced that $900 million over four years will be directed from the cap and trade proceeds for energy retrofits for social housing and residential apartment buildings.

On June 1, the Ontario Legislature passed  the Waste-Free Ontario Act  which will encourage innovation in recycling processes and require producers to take full responsibility for their products and packaging. The new provisions will be overseen by Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority, replacing the Waste Diversion Ontario agency.  For an update on European progress on waste and the circular economy , see The European Environmental Agency report More from less – material resource efficiency in Europe (June 9).

June 10: Ontario announced new investment by GM Canada  which promises to create 700 new engineering and software development jobs –  in Oshawa, developing “the next generation of connected, autonomous and alternative-fuel vehicles”;  in Markham, software development, and in Kapuskasing, where it will upgrade its cold-weather testing facility. On  June 16,  Ontario announced  it  will provide $85.8 million to  Fiat Chrysler Canada , to support advanced training and plant upgrades for the production of the Chrysler Pacifica in Windsor.  The Pacifica will be  the first plug-in hybrid electric minivan to be built in North America.

Reports from Davos: Climate Change, Circular Economy, Ethical Supply Chains

The annual  World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, brings together the corporate and political elites  – this year’s theme from January 20 – 23rd is “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”. Yet climate change ranks high on the agenda and several reports relevant to climate change and labour have been released. Notably, the Global Challenge Initiative on Environment and Natural Resource Security project  produced The Global Risks Report 2016  , which ranks global risks, in terms of likelihood as : 1. Large-scale Involuntary migration; 2. Extreme weather events   3. Failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation. A project about the Circular Economy released a report commissioned by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and conducted by McKinsey & Company: The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of Plastics . ( press release here ). The new report addresses the problems identified in a 2014 report from the UNEP Plastics Disclosure Project, Valuing Plastic: The Business Case for Measuring, Managing and Disclosing Plastic Use in the Consumer Goods Industry , which projected that, “ in a business-as-usual scenario, by 2050 oceans are expected to contain more plastics than fish (by weight), and the entire plastics industry will consume 20% of total oil production, and 15% of the annual carbon budget. ”

Regarding supply chains, a report by an Accenture consulting firm, Beyond Supply Chain: Empowering Responsible Value Chains   discusses the “triple advantage” of ethical supply chains which include environmental goals. The Accenture report paints a favourable picture of corporate behaviour, in contrast to Scandal: Inside the Global Supply Chains of 50 Top Global Companies, a hard-hitting report from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The ITUC focuses mainly on working conditions and wages, as well as health and safety of workers. Bringing it all together and released in advance of Davos, research from the University of Sheffield concludes that “ Audits are ineffective tools for detecting, reporting, or correcting environmental and labour problems in supply chains. They reinforce existing business models and preserve the global production status quo…. The growth of the audit regime is carving out an ever greater role for corporations in global corporate governance and enforcing an ever smaller role for states.”  A summary of the Sheffield research appeared in The Guardian  on January 14; the full report is Ethical Audits and Supply Chains of Global Corporations  (registration required to download). A related article, focusing on the coffee industry, appeared in The Conversation (December 1): “Why corporate sustainability won’t solve climate change ” .

The European Circular Economy Debate Informed by New Job Creation Report

An interim report by the Club of Rome examines the social benefits that a circular economy would bring to the Swedish economy. The full report, due out in summer 2015, will include the Dutch and Spanish economies as well. The Circular Economy and Benefits for Society: Swedish Case Study shows Jobs and Climate as Clear Winners estimated the effects of three different scenarios to reduce carbon emissions.

The report found that if all three decoupling strategies were undertaken together, carbon emissions would be cut by almost 70% and job creation  would likely exceed 100,000. This report was partly supported by Swedish Association of Recycling Industries, and was released with the stated objective of influencing the current political debate in the European Commission, where a proposed Circular Economy program was withdrawn amidst controversy in 2014. The original proposal, included a 70 per cent recycling and reuse target for 2030, as well as a requirement to increase the recycling rate for packaging waste to 80 per cent by 2030 and a ban on the landfilling of recyclable plastics, metals, glass, paper and cardboard, and biodegradable waste by 2025. Read also Circular Economy Package Consultation Expected Before Summer (April 21) and follow developments from the official EC Circular Economy website.

Labour Market Impacts of a Circular Economy in the U.K.

A report released in late January 2015 by the Green Alliance and WRAP in the U.K. considers the regional and occupational patterns of employment in recycling, reuse and remanufacturing activities, with a forecast for the future. Employment and the Circular Economy: Job Creation in a More Resource Efficient Britain concludes that “if Britain continues to develop its resource efficiency, the country’s circular economy sector will create net jobs in regions where unemployment is higher, such as the North East and West Midlands, and among low to mid skilled occupations, where a higher rate of job losses are projected for the future”. The public report is based on a technical report, Opportunities to Tackle Britain’s Labour Market Challenges through Growth in the Circular Economy, which describes the U.K. labour market, explains the methodology and calculations, and forecasts job creation potential for low-skilled, skilled, and professional workers under three different scenarios. In the best case, by 2030 the sector could require an extra  205,000 jobs, reduce unemployment by around 54,000, and offset 11 per cent of future job losses in skilled employment.

Expanding Recycling will bring New Jobs to California

According to a new report from the Tellus Institute, California could create 110,000 jobs if it meets its 2020 goal to recycle 75% of its solid waste. From Waste to Jobs: What Achieving 75 Percent Recycling Means for California is a follow-up to a 2011 report that asserted a 75% recycling rate for the entire U.S. could generate 1.5 million new jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 515 million metric tons.

Using recovered materials to create new products and packaging is more labour-intensive than incineration or sending them to the landfill. If California sticks to the 2011 AB 341 bill signed by Governor Jerry Brown, it will increase its solid waste diversion rate from half to three quarters while creating 34,000 jobs in materials collection, 26,000 jobs in materials processing, and 56,000 jobs during the manufacture of products using recycled materials. Plastics recycling is particularly significant, potentially delivering 29,000 new jobs alone. 38,600 indirect jobs could also be created in related sectors, such as equipment and services used by the recycling sector.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which commissioned the report, recommends encouraging product stewardship and extended producer responsibility programs requiring packaging manufacturers to support the expansion of recycling infrastructure.

LINKS

From Waste to Jobs: What Achieving 75 Percent Recycling Means for California is available at: http://www.nrdc.org/recycling/files/green-jobs-ca-recycling-report.pdf

The 2011 Tellus report More Jobs, Less Pollution is available at: docs.nrdc.org/globalwarming/files/glo_11111401a.pdf

NRDC California Recycling Website is at: http://www.nrdc.org/recycling/green-jobs-ca-recycling.asp

The Business Case for a Circular Economy: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle as a Solution to Coming Shortages of Raw Materials

On January 24 at the the World Economic Forum, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched Project Mainstream, a collaborative project involving large enterprises capable of bringing the circular economy from small-scale pilot projects to the mainstream of business. The press release states: “With commodity prices almost tripling in the last 10 years, businesses and governments are now recognizing this as an opportunity to manage input cost volatility, as this approach decouples economic growth from finite supplies of primary resources.” Towards the Circular Economy, the report which accompanied the launch, finds that “over US$1 trillion a year could be generated by 2025 for the global economy and 100,000 new jobs created for the next five years if companies focused on encouraging the build-up of circular supply chains to increase the rate of recycling, reuse and remcircular economy v 3anufacture.” As an article in The Guardian points out, this initiative intends to tackle the scale and complexity of global supply chains-as well as a crucial stumbling block in recycling – the toxic contents of some products. Canadian readers will be familiar with these concepts from the 2013 report, Closing the Loop: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions Through Zero Waste in BC, which focused on the benefits to consumers and the environment. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has published reports on the Circular Economy since 2010.

LINKS:

Towards the Circular Economy Vol.3: Accelerating the Scale-up Across Global Supply Chains is available from a link at: http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/business/reports/ce2014, and previous reports are available at: http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/business/reports

“Circular Economy offers Business Transformation and $1tn of Savings” (Jan. 24) in The Guardian at: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/circular-economy-business-transformation-one-trillion-savings

Closing the Loop: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions Through Zero Waste in BC, published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Climate Justice Project (March 2013) is available at: http://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/closing-loop

A Zero Waste Economy Benefits the Environment and the Economy

Closing-the-loopA report released on March 28 calls for a move to a zero waste economy in British Columbia, estimating that more aggressive reduction and recycling of consumer goods could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by almost 5 million tonnes by 2020 and 6.2 million tonnes by 2040. A “closed loop system”, in which products like appliances would be repaired and reused for as long as possible, and finally recycled or reused in new products, would also benefit local economies by creating decent green jobs in repair, servicing and maintenance, waste management in sophisticated collection and sorting systems, as well as re-manufacturing and recycling activities. Based on research carried out in the US, UK and Europe, the authors estimate that “100% recycling of B.C.’s waste, with all sourcing and processing done locally, would support 12,300 direct jobs. With an existing provincial diversion rate of 43%, this would mean about 7,000 new direct jobs. In addition to these, there are also potential jobs gains in the more labour-intensive repair and refurbishment of products.”

“Because there may be job losses from reduced resource extraction and landfilling and incineration practices, “just transition” programs will be needed that facilitate new skills development. On balance, it is anticipated that job creation impacts would be larger than losses, but policy should actively seek to create those jobs by developing the sectors cited above. Promoting and supporting unionized workforces would push green jobs to ensure decent wages and working conditions.”

LINK
Closing the Loop: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Creating Green Jobs through Zero Waste in B.C. by Marc Lee, Sue Maxwell, Ruth Legg, and William Rees is available at the Climate Justice Project of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (B.C. Office) at: http://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/BC%20Office/2013/03/CCPA-BC-Zero-Waste.pdf